Customs Information

by | May 14, 2015 | 1 comment

Shipping internationally can be very complicated, but most couriers have streamlined and fine-tuned the process to be accurate and automated. Most of the work is performed by us here in Mail Services, but we may need your help, so it’s best if you call before getting the shipment ready to mail. Below are the questions that we will ask.

Question #1: What are you shipping?

There are two basic categories of shipments: documents and everything else. It is VERY important to distinguish between the two when shipping… and believe me, it’s a lot harder than it sounds sometimes. This includes letters, cards, informational brochures, admissions documents, billing statements… basically anything written or typed on paper that holds no intrinsic value and can easily be replaced.

Official Documents

This applies to anything on paper that is official, notarized and/or difficult to replace. Official documents most commonly processed here at WOU include transcripts, diplomas, statements or reports, contracts, and payments.

Products & Commodities

If it isn’t a document, then it’s a product or commodity. Most commonly within this category is bound documents such as books or notebooks, but does not include brochures typically.

Question #2: To which country are you shipping?

To complicate matters even further, each country has a list of restricted and prohibited items. Normally, I suggest that boxes be packed, taped up and labeled before being brought to Mail Services, but in this case it’s better to bring all of the pieces of the shipment, but not close it up. A detailed list needs to be made of the contents of the box as well as individual weights and worth of each individual piece for international customs. Why, you say? Well, some countries charge customs tax on incoming products on certain categories of goods. Some of the stranger ones:

  • France restricts the import of imitation pearls and any articles of jewelry made with pearls of this type as well as feeding bottles.
  • Germany restricts the import of Melatonin and playing cards, except those in complete decks
  • Italy… well, their list is pretty incredible. And it’s not just the Vatican City, it’s the whole country! Among some of the most unexpected are “toys not made wholly of wood”, “ribbons for typewriters”, and “Coral mounted in any way” (does that mean that non-mounted coral is acceptable?)

Because of these little idiosyncrasies and my inability to commit them all to memory, it is wise to run the contents of an international package past me before sending it out to save yourself delays and grief.


Question #3: What is the value of the contents?

Customs cares about items that carry actual value rather than sentimental or representative value. The easiest way to establish the value of your shipment is to find out the replacement cost of the contents. The replacement cost usually determines the amount and detail of paperwork required.

No monetary value

These items represent rather than hold value and can be replaced. Most commonly sent items that have no monetary value are documents such as:

  • diplomas
  • transcripts
  • research papers.
Worth under $100

Most media falls within this category and includes but is not limited to:

  • books
  • binders
  • catalogs
  • DVD’s
  • VHS tapes (don’t laugh,they still exist)
  • CD’s (and so on…)
Worth between $101 - $400

$400 is the cutoff value for customs. General information is required, but not much detail. A line item list of contents complete with individual (approximate) item values is required for shipping.

Worth between $401 - $2,500

Shipments valued at more than $400 require a great deal of time and detailed description to process. To ship, Mail Services must have a complete list of contents with the following details:

  • Value of each item
  • Weight of each item
  • Manufacturer/Country of Origin
  • Serial Numbers

The easiest way I’ve found to supply this information to customs is to provide a copy of any packing slips or order forms to provide detailed information. The more detail provided, the better.

Worth more than $2,500

Shipments exceeding $2,500 in value require a formal entry in order to release the merchandise. Filing a formal entry can be very time consuming and involved, so it is important to understand that nothing with this value set will reach it’s destination quickly regardless of courier.

If formal entry is required on a parcel, the parcel is held at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) International Mail Branch and notice is sent to the addressee of the package’s arrival. The addressee can then go to the nearest CBP office to file the formal entry on the package. Once the Mail Branch has been notified that entry has been filed, the package will be released to the Postal Service and forwarded to its final destination. (I stole most of this information from the original link here)

*PLEASE NOTE: Higher value items require up to three (3) business days for Mail Services to process. Limited locking storage space is available for anything being held overnight or over the weekend. Shippers should plan for their shipments to be held up at  international customs for up to a few days, even if proper paperwork is provided. The greater value, the more potential for delay, so please be detailed.